Southampton run into procurement conflict of interest issues
We’ve kept off the problems with the UK government contract for interpreters and translators up to now because it has been pretty well covered by the mainstream media. But we’ve got another angle on it now, so to recap; the Ministry of Justice let a contract last year to Applied Language Solutions (ALS), a relatively small firm, to provide interpreters to the English and Wales Courts Service.
But they appear to have won the contract by promising large savings that replied on them reducing the price paid to the actual people who provide the services – who work as independents in the main. Those staff have not surprisingly been less than happy on occasion to see their rates halved or worse, so ALS have struggled at times to meet the service levels required.
Then, to add a bit more spice, Capita acquired ALS, which excited publications such as the Guardian and Private Eye who it’s fair to say don’t have a great affection for that firm! So the whole episode raises some pertinent questions about good procurement practice, to which we’ll return on another day. But we’ve now learnt of another twist.
Capita provide a procurement service to Southampton City Council on an outsourced service basis. Now, Southampton are running a tender for translation services, and guess what – ALS, a Capita firm, are bidding for it!
It appears that Southampton suddenly realised that this might cause a few issues, so they communicated with the other bidders to assure them that all steps would be taken to make sure things would be done properly to ensure fairness. the Council told bidders that processes, barriers, disciplines and confidentiality undertakings would be put in place to ensure there was no conflict of interest or inappropriate disclosure of information within Capita.
But then the Council went on to say to bidders:
“By confirming your intention to respond to this PQQ you acknowledge the involvement of the above members of the Capita Group in this procurement and confirm your acceptance of the adequacy of the measures put in place by Southampton City Council”.
So if you’re not happy with the propriety of our process, you’re out of the tender. That seems perilously close to something not very appropriate at all, and we’re not sure that’s the best way to handle the issue.
Personally, I don’t think I’d let Capita anywhere near management of the procurement process if they’re also a bidder. If the Council doesn’t have the resource to do the procurement, get another independent firm/ consultant in to run that particular exercise. Or someone from Portsmouth council….But it just seems too incestuous otherwise.
It’s also a taste of what’s to come. We’re starting our series on the future of public procurement tomorrow, and issues like this raised by outsourcing of procurement will be one of the key issues we’ll cover. In the meantime, we will watch with interest to see who wins the Southampton contract. We’re available to advise on legal challenges at very reasonable rates…